New Battery Technology Propelling Electric Vessel Development
Battery technology has enjoyed explosive progress in the past few years, and it’s ramping up even more. General Motors plans to spend $35 billion to electrify its automotive lineup over the next three years, and expects to retire the internal combustion engine by 2035. As a general rule of thumb, the marine industry follows automotive trends, lagging five or more years. But could electric power ever really replace burning dinosaurs in boats? Even with recent advances in lithium-ion batteries, the answer to date would seem to be a firm no due to cost, range and weight constraints. Considering what we’re learning in 2022, however, it’s becoming evident that battery manufacturers are upping the energy ante in a big, big way.
Lithium-ion batteries provide a huge leap in the amount of energy they pack per pound over previous technology, but early on, many suffered from significant safety issues. And while the advent of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) has put most of those concerns to rest, this technology still requires specific battery-management systems that can be expensive and increase installation complexity. The latest LiFePO4s are going down a new path.
Like several newer LiFePO4 batteries, Mastervolt’s latest offering, the MLI Ultra 1250, incorporates management into the battery itself. The 1250 is also armed with self-learning algorithms that predict and balance the performance of each cell, plus a switch that can disconnect cells for safety. The MLI Ultra 1250 offers MasterBus, CZone and NMEA2000 compatibility, and features a pair of IP65 RJ45 ports to view data such as charge state, voltage, and amperage draw on a display. It delivers 1,250 watt-hours in a 33-pound package, discharges to 80 percent for up to 3,500 cycles, and recharges in an hour. Oh, yes—it’s waterproof.
Power Sonic, Renogy and Lithium Blue, meanwhile, have introduced Bluetooth-equipped batteries that connect to an app. However, these are not yet designed for marine applications, nor are they NMEA2000-compliant. As potent as LiFePO4 has proved to be, next-gen tech is under development: solid-state batteries. These power sources eliminate liquid electrolytes in favor of a solid (usually a form of ceramic or glass), which can feature a higher energy density and charge significantly faster. And since there’s no danger of leakage or explosion, the space previously dedicated to fail-safe components can be used to house additional solid electrolytes.
Thanks to modern advances in boatbuilding, onboard systems and technology, the sport of cruising is poised for some exciting times ahead.
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